Oliver Morton on science journalism and humanity’s fascination with the moon

I interviewed Oliver Morton about science writing, the relationship between science and science fiction, and the creative process behind his latest book, The Moon:

In World War II, two of the signature technologies of science fiction came about in real life, in part because of people who were science fiction fans: the superweapon and the space rocket. That gave heft to what has subsequently become a lazy way of thinking: that science fiction goes first and science catches up or surpasses it. That became the source of my least favorite tropes in science writing: “X used to be science fiction and now it is science fact,” and its relative, “Stranger than any science fiction but it is true!” One of the reasons that I hate those tropes is that they are lazy, but another is that they ignore the fact that things can be science fictional in terms of themes of empowerment (superweapons) and transcendence (space travel), not to mention alienation (robots and aliens) and still part of the real world—indeed, now, part of the real world’s history. Space travel does not stop being science fictional just because it is real. The way that my book deals with science fiction is an attempt to get that across—to show the science fictional sensibilities within both what has gone on and what is to come.


Don’t see yourself as a conduit. You face one way—towards the source—when you are learning what you want to say, and the other way—towards the reader—when you are saying it. You are not a window between the reader and the source; you are drawing a picture of the source for the reader, and it is your picture.


Always remember that science and technology have a social and historical context and let that understanding inform your writing even if it is not expressed within it.

Complement with my conversations with other authors about ideas and craftKim Stanley Robinson on how to spark hope in a future ravaged by climate change, and Meg Howrey on the inner lives of astronauts.

This blog exists thanks to the generous support of loyal readers. Become a member.